What the County is talking about this week

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Coroner identifies Cambria body

A body that was found last week on Moonstone Beach in Cambria has been identified as Thomas Richard O’Sullivan. Before a woman found the body on the beach, park rangers found O’Sullivan’s vehicle at the Washburn Campground in San Simeon. O’Sullivan had been reported to be missing and potentially suicidal by the Mountain View Police Department, the city where he was from. Park rangers contacted the sheriff’s department to assist in a search and rescue operation, but the body was found before the sheriffs were able to initiate a search.



Contractors bid on sewer despite suspension threat

The California Coastal Commission is considering a citizen’s group’s request to revoke a key permit for the construction of the hotly debated downtown Los Osos wastewater treatment center.

Los Osos Concerned Citizens and the Los Osos Technical Task Force claim the Los Osos CSD used false and misleading when it obtained the permit. If the commission agrees that claim, it can, within the next 10 days, suspend the permit. It would then hold a hearing on the validity of the information.

Despite that, and three looming lawsuits and a recall initiative, the CSD will open the bidding for the elaborate if not convoluted sewer project on Feb. 24 — which General Manager Bruce Buel believes could break ground as early as May.

After a prequalification process to ensure that each candidate submitting a bid is qualified to construct a sewer, the CSD has narrowed the field down to 11 primary contractor parties. The project has been divided into various segments, and the board will be looking for the lowest bidder to work on each area of town as well as on the treatment facility. They may end up with a different contractor working on each area, or a single contractor capable of providing a comprehensive package deal.

According to state law, the board is required to find the lowest price among the pre-qualified contractors. “We’re looking for the best deal for the community,� Buel explained.

Lisa Schicker, however, who was elected to the board in November on a stop-the-sewer platform, voiced her concern about entering an agreement with so many issues still hanging in the balance.

Schicker maintains that the current sewer project could still be derailed due to a number of lawsuits and a recall effort that’s gaining momentum. She believes that accepting the contract at this point would be unfair to the bidders and could open Los Osos up to unnecessary risks and liabilities. In the event that the contract is terminated, the CSD would face financial obligations.

“I work for the state,� Schicker said, referring to her job as a biologist, “and we could never sign a contract with so many unresolved issues.�



CSD watchdog revealed

Los Osos Community Services District (CSD) General Manager Bruce Buel has announced that he has hired Marvin “Chuck� McClenahan as an audience observer at CSD meetings. Buel created the part-time, temporary position to act as “eyes and ears in the back of the room� at these emotionally charged gatherings.

Some members of the audience were apparently trying to intimidate others from expressing their opinions in the public comment.

“Individuals had reported being harassed by other constituents and asked for some measure of security,� Buel explained.

With 32 years of experience in the SLO Sheriff’s Department, McClenahan was selected from a pool of six qualified candidates, and the CSD pays him $20 an hour to attend the meetings. He is also the husband of Pat McClenahan, administrative services manager for the CSD.



Feds want to extend life of offshore oil leases

Now that a public comment period is over, the federal Minerals Management Service has reiterated that Central Coast offshore oil leases should be extended until 2008.

The agency hasn’t actually extended the leases. That can’t happen until the California Coastal Commission confirms that extending the leases won’t adversely effect the environment. The commission will review the issue at its June meeting.

If the commission does extend the life of the leases, that still wouldn’t allow drilling, just studies of geology and marine life. Companies could then use that information to help plan future oil exploration.

Between 1968 and 1985, five companies bought the rights to the last 36 undeveloped offshore oil leases in California. Bakersfield-based Aera holds the lease to the Lion Rock Unit, the only lease in San Luis Obispo County. While the leases were originally set to expire within five to 10 years, the Minerals Management Service has extended them many times.

Aera’s spokeswoman was unavailable for comment for this story, but in the past, oil industry officials have said that they want to either develop the leases or receive recompense for the $1.2 billion their companies have spent on the leases.



Poly Gras: The party that wasn’t

The idea started with a joking letter published in the Mustang Daily, grew to city-wide buzz, and petered out with only a few arrests.

Last weekend’s Poly Gras was supposed to be the alternative to the canceled Mardi Gras celebrations of the week before. Web sites were built and fliers were distributed at universities in Fresno, San Jose, and Santa Barbara. “No rubber bullets, tear gas, or pepper foam. Just one kickass party and lots of boobs!� promoters wrote on one web site.

But hardly anybody showed up. Or if they did show up, they were well behaved enough that they didn’t attract the attention of the police, and arrest rates were only slightly higher than normal over the weekend.

Rob Bryn with the San Luis Obispo Police Department said that a few rocks were thrown at cops, which doesn’t normally happen on an average weekend, and that the statewide University of California law enforcement team was held over from the weekend before.

“It was a high number of arrests for a weekend, but it was still controlled,� Bryn said.



Morro Bay citizens attack city budget crisis

It’s been called a budget crisis and a critical fiscal crisis. Morro Bay is losing $200,000 a month and tapping into its precious reserve fund to compensate for dwindling revenue, said a group of three Morro Bay citizens who recently reviewed the city’s budget. According to the group, if the city continues with its current spending, it will be broke by December.

The group, which consists of three retired businessmen, started analyzing the city’s budget a couple of months ago and presented their findings at the last City Council meeting.

“We’re just trying to put some daylight on it,� said Dan Glesmann, a member of the group. “I think if the public knows, they’ll be concerned.�

Glesmann said the bulk of Morro Bay spending goes toward personnel; Morro Bay has 112 budgeted, benefited employees. Glesmann is concerned that the city would not be able to effectively handle a crisis if the reserve coffers are further tapped.

The city’s budget woes are not a surprise, though. The city has been considering budget cuts, and on Feb. 28, Morro Bay finance director Jim Koser will give a mid-year review of the budget to the Council. The review, which marks the mid-point of the fiscal year, was originally scheduled for December. The review is meant to highlight for the Council areas of the budget that need to be changed.

Koser said the budget will need to be changed to avoid going broke, but he sees the concerns of the citizens as a misunderstanding.

“Spending beyond the budget is the impression people have; that’s not the case,� he said. According to Koser, the city intended to tap into its reserves to balance the budget and there have been no major surprises.

In past years the city has collected a large portion of its budget through a gas franchise tax that is paid to the city by PG&E. PG&E then bills Duke energy for the use of its natural gas pipelines, and the city collects from that money. Of course when the Duke power plant is not operating frequently, as it has not been this year, the money collected is small.

Koser said that during the energy crisis, money from this tax accounted for 40 percent of the budget, but that it’s not a reliable source of revenue. The city will collect money from the tax in April, but Koser said he has no idea how much money the city will receive.

Koser did confirm that the city could go broke by December if it continues spending without altering the budget.

“If the City Council gives staff the direction to continue to budget the way we did last year, and we don’t see some market improvement in the local economy,� said Koser, “we would be at the point of exhausting our reserves by that time.�



SLO carjackers caught

An attempted carjacking and a car theft resulted in the arrest of three men on Feb 11. The men knocked down a 70-year-old man at the Laguna Village Shopping Center in San Luis Obispo and demanded his keys. The suspects fled the scene after being spotted by witnesses, and the man was left on the ground with a broken ankle.

An hour later, the same three men — Michael Fleming, 19, James Taylor, 21, and Daniel Johnson, 18 — stole a vehicle that was parked outside C.L. Smith Elementary School. The owner of the car had gone inside to pick up her child and left the keys in the car.

Police spotted the vehicle on Foothill Boulevard and attempted to pull it over. The suspects refused to stop and police followed until the car clipped another vehicle while attempting to turn onto the Highway 101 onramp. The suspects attempted to flee the scene but were apprehended.

Police were later able to charge the three individuals with two additional counts of robbery. Both counts were for separate incidents where the men had allegedly assaulted and robbed two transients the day before.



Blakeslee calls for Diablo study

Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee is proposing a study into the long-term viability of the Diablo Canyon Power Plant. The study will address three areas of the plant’s future: seismic hazards, re-powering feasibility, and regulatory relief. The licenses for the twin reactors at the Diablo facility expire in 2023 and 2025.

Blakeslee said a study should be done now in order to avoid crisis management later.

“PG&E will face two choices: attempt to re-license the reactors for another 20 years or shut down,� said Blakeslee in a statement. “In either case, we know that the reactors will not run forever.�

Part of Blakeslee’s proposed study would look at the possibility of converting the nuclear plant to a natural-gas-burning facility. Critics say this would cut numerous jobs. Blakeslee said he recognizes the importance of PG&E to the community, and sees his plan for a study as forward-thinking and essential to keeping PG&E in the community past the life of the nuclear power plant.

“The economic vitality of our community is tied to a strong partnership with our PG&E neighbor,� he said in the statement.

Blakeslee’s plan coincided with a recent Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) meeting on Feb. 15. The NRC met with PG&E to share its findings of an engineering study. The NRC concluded that there were no “significant safety issues.�




In last week’s story, “Felony charges filed in fraud case,� please note the following corrections: The school districts paid $6.1 million in insurance premiums last year, of which Lucia Mar Unified School District paid $1.4 million. The District Attorney’s office has investigated two fraud cases in local school districts. And Diana Larsen is the president of SIPE’s risk management committee.

This week’s news was compiled by staff writers Abraham Hyatt, John Peabody, and Jeff Hornaday.

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